Clause 27 - Public interest interventions in markets investigations

Part of Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 10 July 2012.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 4:45, 10 July 2012

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her comments. She talks about the distinction between mergers and markets, but the fact is that the Competition and Markets Authority would be dealing with and looking at public interest issues to do with mergers, which she suggested would be inappropriate. If it can do that in respect of mergers, it seems not to be too great a leap for it to consider competition issues in an investigation into markets.

Her primary concern seemed to be political accountability for public interest issues. However, I have sought to reassure her that political accountability remains, exactly as it is now, with the Secretary of State after receiving a recommendation. It makes sense for competition issues relating to or impacting on public interest to be considered holistically, rather than as two separate processes. That is an option, not an obligation, but in many cases it may make sense for it to be done holistically.

The Secretary of State has to accept the recommendation of the CMA, so far as competition is concerned, but the responsibility for political accountability for public interest remains with the Secretary of State. I hope that, after my responding clearly to the hon. Lady’s legitimate concerns, she will see that the proper safeguard is in place to ensure that the matters that she has raised will not arise.